Transatlantic: Day 5

A front is supposed to be rolling in, so we make a straight line shot away from it for two reasons:
1. Bad weather is the opposite of good weather.
2. According to our friends on land that were texting us to the boat via our sat phone, the winds were supposed to be blowing out of the West tomorrow down there at a steady 20 knots!

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The 1020 line is far away, but if we are supposed to have wind, we will take it!

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Looking further out at the weather map of the Eastern Atlantic, it appears that the gales have toned down. At this point there is only one gale hovering west of the Azores.

We head south as we wait for the beautiful winds tomorrow is supposed to bring!

Transatlantic: Day 4

We are still moving slowly. The winds are light, but to the north is supposed to be bad storms, so we begin heading South East towards what should be better wind.

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The winds are supposed to be blowing us South, so we begin beating South East. The southern component of the route is not ideal, since we are trying to head North East, but at least we are moving East.

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Looking further out, the 1020 line seems to be stationary! It is hanging out at the longitude of the BVI! We are a bit concerned because this is mid June, and hurricane season will be starting soon. Heading towards the Virgin Islands right before hurricane season is a risky move, but the winds are being weird and not following the normal routine, so this is what we do as we wait for the weather to improve.

Why are we doing this again? Why didn’t we wait in port for better weather?

We were asking ourselves this same question. Back in the Exumas, when we picked him up, we were waiting for better weather; then the weather started to improve so I gave him a ballpark estimate.

At that time (early June) I told him, that we are still waiting for the Azores High to form and mature. This usually happens in early May, but it hasn’t formed yet, so we are just waiting. Around June 6th, it looked like it would be formed and stable soon, as it had begun its development. I gave him a ball park schedule of: We leave Staniel Cay on June 8th, arrive in Florida on June 10th, and have two days to provision, leaving Florida on June 12th.

Well, we left Staniel Cay on June 8th, but we didn’t arrive in Florida until the afternoon of the 11th. WE WERE BEHIND SCHEDULE!! To appease him, we left on the 14th instead of waiting for the weather to actually be better.

So out here we drift, as we slowly make our way towards an imaginary line in the ocean that should have wind and carry us safely to our destination!

Transatlantic: Day 3

We are not moving! There is no wind, no current, and no progress.

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When we looked at the weather map, we see gales to the north, and an approaching 1020 line, but we are on the wrong side of the line to get any benefit from it.

Winds rotate clockwise around the center of a high pressure system and counter clockwise around a low pressure system (in the Northern Hemisphere), so the wind of a 1020 rotates clockwise in a direction tangent to the line. If you are on the right side of the circle, the winds will blow you South. If you are on the bottom of the circle, the winds will blow you West. We are pretty much set just under the line, so any contact with this wind will slow us down even further than we already are!

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The 1020 line we want is now East of the Lesser Antilles! If we head North, we are going to be tossed around in gales. If we stay where we are, we will not have storm conditions.

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Our destination is pretty much in the center of the “H” denoting the center of the high pressure system that forms over the Azores, also known as the Azores High. We want to get there, and usually the route is really simple. Ride the Gulf Stream and the 1020 line around the Atlantic until you are close, then sail on into the Azores island chain.

The issue is there is another high pressure bubble that came off the East Coast of North America and has generated various gales that seem almost stationary at the border of these two giant high pressure systems.

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Instead of getting caught up in that whole mess, we continue to drift East. We aren’t moving, but we still have our crew member on board (as agitated as he is with our slow progress through the water) and he can’t leave us!

Transatlantic: Day 2

The blue ocean lays out before us as a magical wonderland of flatness. We can not see land, but we do see the turquoise clouds over the shallow waters of the Abacos islands in the Bahamas. There are still a few ships on the horzion, but none are close to us.

Our glorious push from the Gulf Stream is given up as we slowly drift our way towards the 1020 line. Winds are light and seas are flat, but we have hopes of wind once we make it to the 1020 line.

Why don’t we turn north? Let’s look at the weather fax!

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Oh yeah, sometimes the weather fax looks like crap! I couldn’t get it to tune in until the region of our location was already over with, so I got a very ugly chart of the weather around us, but not where I am at the moment. What does show is the westward border of the 1020 line.

It was at the longitude of Haiti when we left, but now it has pulled back and is almost at the longitude of Puerto Rico!

Why not just give up on chasing down this mythical holy grail line on a atmospheric pressure chart and just ride the current north? Well, if you look up north, you will see “GALE” written up there. It turns out there were these massive gales that were stationary up there and really messed up the Annapolis/Bermuda race that year. One of my friends was on a boat in the race and the captain actually abandoned the race and returned to the Chesapeake Bay after having so much break on the boat! Needless to say, we wanted a nice “smooth sail” to the Azores, and heading into a gale was not in our cards.

Instead, we continued to drift along slowly.

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The pressure chart was pretty worthless for weather planning, so I also collected the wind/wave charts as well, hoping to piece together a cohesive story for what the weather was doing around us.

It appears that the winds north of us seem to be rather squirrely, blowing in all different directions and different strengths. The wave height is pretty uniform as well, so we decided to keep creeping east towards the 1020 line, even though it was now hundreds of miles further away.

Transatlantic: Day 1 Weather Report

You might be wondering: What determines when is a good time to leave?

The obvious answer might seem something like: “If it’s not storming” or “If the winds are good”, but these are all too general and don’t really tell you anything of use for planning a long voyage!

The truth is, you want wind in order to sail, and with wind comes waves. So a glassy calm day might look like a peach to leave on, but you won’t get anywhere! At the same time, wind strength is worthless if you don’t take into account the wind direction as well! Wind on the nose might be a great reason to wait it out a bit longer in the harbor while comfortably anchored and reading a book. Strong winds from your stern will give you a great push and a wonderful (and spirited) sail towards your destination.

Now, how can you tell when the weather is going to be good for a long voyage? You can’t! Forecasts are so horrible that more than 48 hours out, forecasts are a total guess! You need to have your boat provisioned and ready so that when the weather looks like ti will be good, you can leave in a days notice.

So, what are you actually looking for to tell you “This is a good time to leave” or “This is a bad time to leave”. The answer is very simple. On a weather chart, you will see a pressure line called the 1020 line. This line shows you the border of this air pressure and it is a great time to leave (as long as the wind is going in the right direction). The wind on this line will always flow clockwise along this line, as it makes a circle over the Earth. This line is usually going to have steady winds of around 20 knots (but not always as we have found out!). When this line is coming over you, you can slip out of your mooring and make your way out to sea!

With this wind, you will have the ability to make your way far from land, so that if you encounter a storm, you have plenty of sea way to avoid running aground.

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As you can see on the chart above, the 1020 line is denoted by a number “20” and it is pretty much over Haiti. We are currently on the west coast of Florida, so there is an entire country (the Bahamas) between us and the “good wind” of the 1020 line. We should have waited for it to move closer to us, but instead we left in the very calm weather and slowly sailed towards it.

The normal route is to leave Florida and hop into the Gulf Stream. This giant conveyor belt carries you along at speeds of 1-5 knots in the direction you want to go! This means that even if the winds are light, you get a push from the current and make great miles towards the Azores.

Instead, we left, crossed the Gulf Stream, said goodbye to it’s help, and made our way towards the 1020 line.